The Eureka150 Women's Sewing Circle
A circle of Ballarat women and their friends and supporters gathered
from 9.30 am on Monday 1 November 2004 and for the following three Mondays at the Eureka Memorial Hall, right beside the Eureka Stockade Memorial.
Report of the first Eureka150 Women's Sewing Circle
The four volunteer sewing circles aimed to sew up a bunch of banners for array at the Eureka150 commemorations 22 November - 5 December.
But the project was about more than flag making: it was also about meeting new people, making new friends; its about good people giving a useful community service, sharing stories, and raising the Eureka Spirit.
The Eureka150 Women's Sewing Circle was a sister to the Tyagarah Peace Carnival Sewing Circle that made flags - 108 of them - for the Byron Bay Peace Carnival of 19 September.
The Eureka150 Women's Sewing Circle was part of Eureka Rising, festival animation collaboration (Rebel Eureka) between Peacebus.com and "Culture Lab International. It was also supported by the Eureka Stockade Memorial Association and the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery.
1 November 2004
Seven competent sewers answered to the call to assemble in the Eureka Memorial Hall as volunteers to all to sew up Eureka banners.
There was Shirley Jones and her friends Masey and Thelma, and Nancy who cleans the Hall. They were joined by Marian and Paula who had heard about it on ABC Radio. They were supported by Culture Lab people: Willem Brugman, Catherine Hassall and their baby daughter, Maya Thiango, and Graham Bird and Susannah Kalt. Susannah also had a nursing babe, Mira, and three old boy, Yip. The Peacebus.com crew, Captain Graeme Dunstan and Jennifer the Maremma were also there.
All the women except, Paula, Catherine and Susannah were 70 years of age, old Ballarat girls and Shirley of Eureka Street, Eureka, a former floor supervisor of a former garment manufacturer of Ballarat, quickly got the sewers focussed on production.
Graeme having opened up the Hall and set up the tables went chasing things forgotten: extension cords and power boards and extra thread.
When the Culture Lab crew arrived they set up their costumes in the main Hall. The Hall is long established and much used; it has a very well made wooden floor and paintings and old photos about the walls including a portrait in oils of the 1854 Ballarat Reform League founder, Humffray.
The first visitor the Sewing Circle had was from Cr Stephen Jones who came in his builders shorts and elastic sided boots. Steve was born and bred in Eureka as the suburb which stands on and near the old Eureka Lead gold diggings is called. Of late he has been supervising on behalf of the City Council, the restoration of Eureka Park in preparation for the Eureka150 celebrations.
The second visitor was Frank Williams of the Eureka Stockade Memorial Association, formerly called the Eureka Trust, the committee that formed in 1912 and was responsible for securing the site of the Eureka Stockade as a public reserve and establishing it as parkland with the monument, the Hall, and the adjacent swimming pool.
Frank had lots of stories to tell about the history of the Eureka Park. He told how Cr Steve Jones' father had managed a Kiosk there for many years and from a wheel chair. That the park was once a major festival ground and true people's park.
Shirley could remember going to New Year Day festivals there as a child. Family groups would come from near and far to picnic, coming by tram and train (there was a Eureka station on the long gone Buninyong line). There was swimming (and yabbying) in the swimming hole which existed before the present chlorinated Olympic pool. There were stalls, spinning wheels, Highland bands and dances in the Hall.
Frank explained that the Eureka Trust used the park to organise fund raising for their capital works on the Park and the Hall. They also raised money for other community projects including the building of an orphanage. Such was the Eureka spirit and volunteerism in times past.
The Ballarat Courier sent a reporter and photographer. When asked why he was doing it Shirley said simply: "We just wanted to help." She explained how Graeme had got her to sew up some Eureka banners two years previous and she had seen them go past her Eureka Street front window in the Diggers March last year and had happily agreed to do more.
We gathered outside the Hall for a group photo, the grey haired heroines and the Culture Lab crew in costume, William as the flying Dutch man. The photographer challenged the relevance of his shaman rattle stick and the laptop under his arm. Unexplained and unintroduced it was all a bit mystifying.
But Maya Thiango was the star of the day. She was dressed in a white cotton crocheted bonnet and white dress with a pleated and embroidered front, circa 1940. She entered the Hall in Catherine's arms radiant with smiles for all who made eye contact, so happy to be there. All the older women came to her cooing.
Maya Thiango (= literally the illusive dingo bitch) is our number one mascot. And old Jennifer the Maremma, stretched out at ease of the sewing floor, our number two.
But we never did get to sit in a circle and introduce ourselves and share our enthusiasm. And that day neither did we get to hear the story of the original Eureka Women's Sewing Circle, the one that formed in solidarity with the militant Ballarat Reform League and sewed up the original Eureka Flag (4 m by 2.6 m) in time for its hoisting for the taking of the Eureka oath at the Monster Meeting on Bakery Hill of the Ballarat Reform League.
But we heard other stories of the Eureka Spirit and next week we will. Local story teller and ABC Radio producer, Anne E Steward, has promised to come next Monday and tell us that Eureka women's story in exchange for sewing stars on the Eureka dress she is sewing up for the 150 commemorations. Cultural barter!
And there is no question that a host of banners will be made. Shirley has production sorted and the sewers are kenn. The Diggers March and the Eureka Luncheon will look splendid arrayed with the banners and blessed by the goodwill of these women.
Enriched by many stories we are, cultivated by stories we move forward together.
The first meeting of the Eureka150 Women's Sewing Circle in the Eureka Memorial Hall, 1 November 2004
Shirley Jones, right, supervises the Eureka150 Women's Sewing Circle in the Eureka Memorial Hall, 8 November 2004. That's Bev Bird in the foreground left.
Report of the second Eureka150 Women's Sewing Circle
8 December 2004
The grey skies and cold winds of Ballarat weather made the Eureka Hall annex with its gas heater a welcome refuge when Nancy the hall keeper and I powered up the tea urn, set out the tea things and arranged the tables and power leads for the sewers.
This day six sewers - Marion McLeod, Bev Bird, Pauline Corcoran, Shirley Jones and her friend Thelma. Shirley, the foreperson, was last to arrive. Not that anyone minded for she brought with her work she had been doing at home on her industrial overlocker during the week: 37 of the 50 banner target 50% complete.
Soon the sewing machines were whirling at the rip top nylon, the tables decked in brilliant blue and white. ‘Ballarat' Bill Clyde, a local Greens organiser befriended at the rebel Eureka Dawn Walk of the previous year, arrived and Shirley put us men to work cutting away the nylon from behind the stars.
No shadows behind the stars, I had pleaded and Shirley had reluctantly agreed. This means extra work and careless cutting makes holes in stars … and brings down the wrath of Shirley, the mistress of quality control.
Local storyteller Anne E Steward had been invited but she came to offer a story in exchange for some sewing. Anne is compere-ing on the stage of the Echoes of Freedom World Music Festival 3 – 5 December and is making up a Eureka dress for the occasion. She was seeking help. To sew on stars.
Cultural barter! The Eureka Sewing ladies agreed, stopped work, sat about and listened. Anne E began with a welcome to country, a reverent mention of her indigenous storytelling teacher and some cats cradle, woollen string tricks. She intercuffed Ballarat Bill and I and challenged us to escape. We had it done before she turned her eyes back to us. Tricky fellows us.
Anne told a Romeo and Juliet Eureka story. Of a 19 year old Irish miner in love with the Assistant Commissioner's daughter and she with him. He wounded at the Stockade, she finds and rescues him, hiding all night in an underground tunnel together. Next morning discovered and she takes the bullet meant for her lover. Both die. Much sadness and remorse.
Told with skill and animation by Anne E, the pathos got tears out of me. And its true! Well almost: some locations and event sequences had jumped about, Anne E confessed. But hey, a film script coming up.
Local Eureka historian Anne Begge Sunter was also invited and she arrived just in time to hear Anne E's story. After the story Anne E. handed the floor to Anne B.
Dr Anne B (PhD in dissertaion on Eureka) has much Eureka scholarship behind her. Amongst other stories she told that day was one about one about the myths of the making of the original Eureka flag. One story is that the miner's wives (Anastasia Withers and Ann Duke in particular) sewed a up the flag. The design is attributed as a high probability to Lt Henry Ross, who was effectively the master at arms for the Stockade.
The documentary evidence for original Eureka women's sewing circle is slight, to say the least, and the story only recently added to the mix; the arrival coinciding with the rise of feminism. The other story is that the job was done by tradesmen of a tent making business in the Gravel Pits which advertised itself as a flag maker. Flags were in common use at the time to landmark camps and diggings.
Anne B. thought the weight of evidence was with the men's story. Anne E. said her vote was for the women as the flag maker. Fact, story and myth consensus are always dancing partners.
Asked about the benefits of the Eureka rebellion 1854 and Anne B. said one of the direct and immediate benefits was the introduction of the Miners Right in 1855. This allowed a man to claim a piece of land (a quarter acre) and build a house, maintain a garden, dig a mine and vote! (Women suffrage came later.) But this meant free land for the poor man and his family! Security for widows. No payment, no mortgage, no bank profiteering. Up until that time only the rich could own land in Australia.
She asked around the circle of sewing women, two including Shirley had been raised in houses and backyards held by Miners Right. My mother's and father's families too. So close the story to our lives.
As the two Annes departed, Catherine King MP, the local federal member of Parliament, arrived. Alone, no make up, in her Ballarat house clothes, no fuss, the girl next door. The Sewing Ladies were delighted and honoured to see her. But on entering the room, Catherine's eyes went straight to Jennifer the Maremma a great lump shag sprawled on the floor, all of us walking around her. Catherine loves dogs.
Catherine King had scraped home to retain her seat in the recent polls and she had come from a bloody week in Canberra where her party, the Australian Labor Party, had been licking its wounds and tearing itself apart by turns. She found heart in the Sewing Circle and the friends she met there.
The guests departed and we got down to production, hemming, pinning on stars, sewing on stars, cutting away the fabric behind stars, Shirley chiding me for my careless work. She is cross that I put her age (70 years) in the media release and that it had appeared in the local paper, together with a group photo of last week' Sewing Circle. Shirley doesn't like cameras either. And she won't go on radio.
"As a mark of respect for your eldership", I explained. "Now you are trying to make me tribal," she scoffed.
Truth is I think Shirley a gem and I tell her so. She had mentioned the grandson she is raising, eight year old Dalton, his father, Shirley's son, a bit damaged and dysfunctional. I said Dalton was a lucky boy to have a Gran like her.
"Nothing special," she said. "If it was take responsibility or let your grandson go into foster care, you would look after him, wouldn't you?"
I thought about my London born 3 month old grandson, Iggy Bravo. I thought of sharing Happy Wheels, Jennifer, camping out in the bush, and adventures occupying public space together.
"I would but I would also have a posse of social workers on my tail," said I.
"You'd elude them, Graeme. Wouldn't you?"
The Eureka rebel spirit flamed up: YES! At once and together we remembered The Shiralee, the 50s Australian movie starring Peter Finch, and laughed.
Later as I sat cutting, Shirley brought me a cup of soup and a round of sandwiches. For which I was most grateful because I had neglected to organise lunch. Shirl had noticed and was covering for me. My granny too.
At the end of the day we had about 10 flags finished and another 27 in progress. The effort had been a pleasure.
9 November 2004
Local Ballarat storyteller, Anne E. Stewart, does cultural barter at the Eureka150 Women's Sewing Circle
Anne E. Stewart (left), Anne Begge Sunter (right) and red ghosts in the camera, 8 November 2004
Media Release 28 October 2004
Eureka Women's Sewing Circle
150 years after the original, another Eureka Women's Sewing Circle is coming together to sew up banners for the upcoming commemoration of the Eureka rebellion.
"We are putting out the call for volunteers, younger women and older women, sewing machinists, cutters, cuppa-tea and cake makers, child carers and cheer bearers, to come together in the Spirit of Eureka and lend a hand", says Shirley Jones, 70 year old, of Eureka Street, Eureka.
"Not only will we sew up a bunch of beautiful flags to dress the Diggers Walk and other Eureka150 events, we will also be making new friends and remembering the solidarity of the women at the Eureka Stockade."
Call 5338 4641 for more information or just show up.
Starting 9.30 am Monday 1 November and meeting every Monday for the next four weeks in the Eureka Memorial Hall, Stawell Street South, Eureka, the sewing circle aims to sew up 50 banners which will be proudly carried in the Diggers' Walk of Saturday 4 December and displayed at other commemoration events.
Artist, Graeme Dunstan, who is also the lantern maker for the Dawn Walk, has devised the banner design.
The Eureka Women's Sewing Circle is a community animation project of the Eureka Rising, Eureka150 celebrations and it is sponsored by the Eureka Stockade Memorial Association.
Photo opportunity11.30 am Monday 1 November 2004
The first gathering of the Eureka Women's Sewing Circle
Eureka Memorial Hall
Stawell Street South, Eureka
Background on another sewing circle organised by Peacebus.com, see www.peacebus.com/PeaceFlags/2004SewingCircle.html
Shirley Jones 5338 7815
Graeme Dunstan 53384641 or 0407 951 688
Frank Williams, Eureka Stockade Memorial Association 5332 6386
Al Grassby, former Whitlam Minister for Immigration, father of multiculturalism in Australia, historian and social reformer, with Frank Williams, chair of the Eureka Stockade Memorial Association, the Ballarat Regional Mulitcultural Association and the Ballarat Regional (Australian Rules) Football League at the Eureka Memorial, dawn Sunday 5 December 2003